Lessons learned from the slopes of Arizona Snowbowl will be applied on the mountains of Sochi this month, as former Snowbowl instructors make up the coaching team behind Olympians such as Shaun White, Bode Miller and Ted Ligety.
Men’s U.S. Olympic Snowboarding and Freeskiing Head Coach for the Halfpipe and Slope Style Teams, Mike Jankowski, taught himself to snowboard on Hart Prairie in 1993. Among the medals he’s looking to bring home in the 2014 Winter Olympics include an unprecedented third consecutive Olympic gold for Shaun White in the halfpipe.
While White was growing up practicing skateboarding stunts along the sandy beaches of Southern California, Jankowski was transferring his skateboarding skills to the snowy mountains of Northern Arizona. “I had moved out West from Memphis, Tenn., at the time and I had grown up skateboarding and doing traditional sports and was really intrigued by snowboarding. So I went out and got myself a board, some wool Army surplus pants, some motocross goggles and a big giant flannel shirt.”
Jankowski says he watched people getting on the chairlift and followed them up. “I didn’t really know what to expect when I got to the top and made my way down Hart Prairie that first day; however, I never looked back since.”
By the winter of 1994 – ’95, Jankowski was teaching others at Snowbowl. “Little did I know then that would be my chosen career path and I’d be skiing here (Sochi) now and leading the U.S. Team to the third Olympics and hoping to bring home those medals for the USA!”
Jankowski says ski areas like Snowbowl are integral to the cultivation of young athletes. “You really have that great family environment on the mountain that Snowbowl has. It’s more key than you might really know to the development of those future Olympians.”
Billy Gaylord was one such young athlete who learned to ski at Arizona Snowbowl. The son of Flagstaff orthodontist Dr. Bill Gaylord, Billy had dual citizenry in the United States and England, and skied for the British team in the Lillehammer 1994 Olympic Games.
Team USA athletes to watch for this month include Alpine ski racing champions Bode Miller and Ted Ligety. Both have been coached by former Arizona Snowbowl ski instructor Phil McNichol, who recently retired as the
U.S. Alpine Ski Team Men’s Head Coach, the winningest U.S. Ski Team coach through three Olympics.
“I was only in Flagstaff for four years and it changed my life,” he said. McNichol’s first season at Arizona Snowbowl was 1984 – ’85. “I happened to be skiing with the Ski School instructor and he asked me if I wanted to teach skiing. It was a dream come true. So began the journey of finding myself through the community and the people of Snowbowl.”
It was also at Snowbowl that McNichol says he discovered the principles that have lasted a lifetime and that he has shared with the world champion athletes he has coached: value friendship, enjoy nature, follow your passion, be yourself, understand the power of community and family, strive to inspire others, and appreciate what you have.
NBCUniversal’s coverage of the Sochi Olympic Winter Games, brought to you on Cable One by Arizona Snowbowl. February 6-23